Ranking Japan’s Best Actors: Are Japanese and Non-Japanese fans seeing them differently? What’s a Best Actor for you?

Japan's Best Actors - 2017

50,000 Japanese picked their choices for “Best Actor” and the most “Beautiful Actress” in a recent survey by TV Asahi. The list was then featured in Nakai Masahiro’s TV show.

Topping the survey is Takakura Ken, followed by Yamada Takayuki, and Fujiwara Tatsuya. On the ladies side, the most beautiful are Kitagawa Keiko, followed by Yoshinaga Sayuri, and Sasaki Nozomi.


The final results were tabulated based on votes coming from age-level respondents (20s, up to 50s and 60s). No idea if there are certain criteria to follow, but Takakura Ken is universally loved and admired in Japan. The acclaimed actor also cultivated a strong but modest presence in Hollywood, with castings in high-profile movies, including Black Rain (with Michael Douglas). Mr. Takakura died on November 2014 but left behind an impressive list of movies covering more than 4 decades. 

An article from The LA Times describes Black Rain and Mr. Takakura’s performance:

The movie proves to be an unexpected change of pace for Takakura, an icon of stoic strength in the Japanese cinema. No one who has enjoyed Takakura’s reserved but sensitive heroes over the years would have expected to see Takakura singing–in English yet–a vigorous “What’d I Say” on a nightclub stage. It’s almost as startling as Garbo’s laughing fit in “Ninotchka.” If Douglas and Garcia take some of the starch out of Takakura’s dignified cop, he in turn teaches them some lessons in respect for Japanese ways. Although “Black Rain” is sure to bring Takakura more international renown than all of his nearly 200 previous films put together, he initially turned it down. In person, Takakura, who was in town briefly for the film’s opening, has a presence distinctly different from what he portrays on the screen. He has a sense of humor that few of his recent films have captured and, for a man who exudes such cool virility in his movies, he is surprisingly slight and unathletic appearing. However, at 58, he also looks at least a decade younger. [ source ]

I continuously feature Mr. Takakura on this website because I want to introduce him to Japanese movie fans who are not so familiar with his work. While we are not an authority on his many movies and performances, I am heavily influenced by his acting from some of the movies I have been fortunate enough to see – The Yellow Handkerchief, Antartica (the movie that inspired Disney’s Eight Below, starring Paul Walker), Station, Poppoya, and Dearest. He has a very distinct on-screen persona – strong and very masculine – yet there is always that compassion that emanates from within. Takakura Ken inspires people with his acting in the way the older Mifune Toshiro has done previously.

I thought Yakusho Koji has similar “vibes”, which is why I question the exclusion of Yakusho from the list. Mr. Yakusho’s credentials speak for itself – Tampopo, Shall We Dance, 13 Assassins, The World of Kanako, and of course Cannes Palme D’Or winner The Eel.

The complete ranking is shown below:

Top 10 Best Actors - Japanese

Japan’s Best Actors according to the TV Asahi survey: 

1. Takakura Ken
2. Yamada Takayuki
3. Fujiwara Tatsuya
4. Kagawa Teruyuki
5. Sakai Masato
6. Oguri Shun
7. Watanabe Ken
8. Suda Masaki
9. Nishida Toshiyuki
10. Sato Koichi

While, Japan’s foremost and highly respected Kinema Junpo ranks Mifune as Japan’s best, the Japanese who participated in the survey may have forgotten Mifune Toshiro and his 16-film collaboration with filmmaker Kurosawa Akira which is made up from works such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo. This is a pity, since Mifune is most definitely Japan’s best actor, perhaps even better than Takakura. But it seems that because I’m not Japanese my ranking might be quite different.

Is there a certain uniqueness or characteristics that the Japanese look for in an actor? Because quite frankly, a lot of the names did not impress me. Take, for instance, Fujiwara Tatsuya, or even Sakai Masato, and Oguri Shun. 


Ryunosuke Kamiki and Satoh Takeru acting for BakumanTranslation by the-50-person

Kamiki: Because we have read the script and we know how the plot is going to develop, but the characters themselves are living in the moment and do not know what actions the other characters they are interacting with are going to take and hence the characters’ reactions are unknown, we have to always take care to maintain this sense of novelty.

Takeru: *points at Kamiki in agreement*

Kamiki: Also, when constructing a character, one should not superficially decide/fix a type for the character. In daily life, one should think using the same method of thinking that one’s character would then perform with a thorough understanding. Although sometimes your partner’s reaction may not be what you expected, but so long you grasp the way your character thinks, no matter how the other person acts, you can effortlessly respond as the character. One should always be aware of this.

Audience: *claps in admiration*

Kamiki: This is what I always take note of when crafting my characters.

Takeru: Besides the character, there is also the method of filming. The best would be to adjust your performance accordingly with the filming method. Although I am unable to cover all instances at once, but from the viewpoint of a 17-year-old, don’t y’all have a script? The script has both your partner’s and your lines on it, for example, your lines are ‘…..’ and your partner’s line are ‘……’, and then a symbol to indicate that you should be surprised. The script is organized into lines upon lines: how your partner’s lines should be, and how your lines should be. This way it is easy for you to become stuck within a fixed frame. This is actually a trap. But when we are conversing like this, my partner has reactions and I am also a living personality/being [T/N: apologies if I got this wrong]; we are not just two objects talking to each other. (Kamiki nods in agreement) After your partner’s lines, your own lines will also emerge in response. This sounds a bit complicated, I’m sorry. It’s roughly like this. In essence, it’s not to become restricted by the ellipses and exclamation marks on the script.

Kamiki: It’s not showing surprise after one’s partner has finished speaking, but starting to become surprised while they are still talking.

Takeru: Yes, yes! That’s exactly what I meant. This explanation is easier to understand.


I think the names below deserve high rankings too:

Ando Masanobu
Kase Ryo
Kora Kengo
Kubosuka Yusuke
Matsuda Ryuhei
Moriyama Mirai
Shofukutei Tsurube 
Tadanobu Asano
Tsumabuki Satoshi
Yakusho Koji

I also feel that it’s too early for Suda Masaki to be part of that list. Among the younger actors (after the Oguri-Tsumabuki-Matsuda generation) it’s Sometani Shota, Yagira Yuya, and Ryunosuke Kamiki, who have made significant acting strides and deserve to be part of any Best Actor list.

 Japan's Most Beautiful Actresses - 2017

I have not much to say about Kitagawa Keiko. I agree that she’s beautiful and carries herself quite nicely – she’s a fashion model after all – but I haven’t been able to appreciate her as an actress yet. 

Japan’s perennial heroine, Yoshinaga Sayuri, will always be part of any survey – she’s beautiful and she’s an excellent actress. Like Takakura Ken and Mifune Toshiro, she represents multiple generations of Japanese actors by her sheer on-screen presence. Whether it’s playing the role of the dutiful wife and beloved mother (Kabei: Our Mother, Nagasaki: Memories of my Son), the concerned homeroom teacher (A Chorus of Angels), or the loyal sister (Ototo), she has done it all. 

Here’s the complete list of the Top 10 most beautiful Japanese actresses:

1. Kitagawa, Keiko
2. Yoshinaga Sayuri
3. Sasaki Nozomi
4. Ishihara Satomi
5. Natsume Masako
6. Aragaki Yui
7. Kiritani Mirei
8. Sawajiri Erika
9. Fukuda Kyoko
10. Ayase Haruka

I’m not happy with the list. Perhaps, my definition of ‘beautiful’ is different as well? I find Tsuchiya Tao, Nikaido Fumi, Inoue Mao, Matsuoka Mayu, Mitsushima Hikari, Matsu Takako, Nagasawa Masami, and Yu Aoi to be beautiful. I think a woman who speaks her mind and is not afraid to challenge the “establishment” is more than beautiful. My dear Fumi is that and more!

How about you? Who are your best actor and most beautiful actress, let us know what you think! 


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